Hodgepodge of Writing Resources (Penny Rader)

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Anyone else stunned it’s the last day of May?  I hope the next few months slow down (at least my evening and weekend hours!).  This post doesn't really have a specific theme – just a few resources I've come across.  I hope you'll find something here that intrigues you.

Just a note:  I've included only bare snippets from the articles. Please click on the links for the full benefits of the authors’ knowledge.

Colonial Quills 

In addition to their blog posts, be sure to check out CQ's Resources page (websites and online reference books). This would've been so helpful to me when I was writing my historical romance set in Colonial America.

Five Warning Signs Your Story Needs Revision (Kristin Lamb)

I admit I did chuckle a bit while reading this article because it reminded me of Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be a Redneck If…, but Kristin made some great points. And, I must confess, revising and editing are my favorite parts of writing because it gives me hope I can fix the crud that spills out in the draft.

Red Flags:

  1. If Your Novel has More Characters than the Star Wars Prequels, You Might Need Revision
  2. If Your Novel Dumps the Reader Right into Major Action, You Might Need Revision
  3. Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts? Time for Revision
  4. Too much Physiology? Time for Revision
  5. Too Many Evil Adverbs? REVISE!

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Jet-Fuel Backstory by DiAnn Mills

A while back I listened to the mp3 of an RWA workshop DiAnn presented a couple years ago and was thrilled to discover this post because I've misplaced my notes.  [Scribbled on the back of envelopes during my drive home from work (at stop lights!) and in my driveway.]  In my humble opinion, backstory is essential for creating GMC.  Yes, we know (or soon learn!) not to info-dump the characters’ backstories, but figuring out what shaped them, why they want what they want, whether you know the moment you begin your story or discover it as you go along, will strengthen your characters and your story.

These are questions DiAnn uses (and gives credit to Donald Maas):

  1. What happened in your character’s life up to age 12 that affected who she/he is today?
  2. What happened in your character’s life from ages 13 - 20 that affected who she/he is today?
  3. What happened in your character’s life from ages 21 - 30 that affected who she/he is today?
  4. What happened in your character’s life 1 year ago that affected who she/he is today?
  5. 6 months?
  6. 6 weeks?
  7. 24 hours?
  8. 1 hour?
  9. 10 minutes?

Layering As You Go - 3 part series by Glynna Kaye

  1. Write to Rewrite 
  2. Revealing Emotion in Body Language & Facial Expression 
  3. Internal Dialogue and Character Voice

Resources for Writing a Potent “Inner Story” in Your Book (Mary Carroll Moore)
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Mary share tips from From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler, who says “…to write successful emotional moments, a writer must dwell in the sensory elements of that moment.  It requires a full immersion into the senses.”

Here are a few snippets from an exercise Mary recommends to enliven your inner story:

  1. Describe an event from your childhood … that evoked strong emotion. … Use the sense of sound as much as possible.
  2. Add smell.
  3. Ask “How is my body feeling as I write this?”
  4. Ask “What don’t I remember hearing during this event?”
  5. Ask “What was I afraid of smelling during this event…?”
  6. Finish by asking how you feel now.

Resources: Magic Systems (Writing Questions Answered)

Here you’ll find a comprehensive guide to magic as well as several other articles (ex: creating a magic system; types of magic) you may find helpful if you’re writing a magic story.

***By the way, Writing Questions Answered has all sorts of writing resource articles available from all types of characters to time periods to plotting to occupations to, well, pretty much anything you want to learn about.  Here’s a master list of posts that might be especially helpful to new writers:.

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10 Best Creative Writing Prompts (by Joe Bunting)

There are 10 pictures.  Above each picture is a link to click, though I image you could use the photos alone as a prompt.   #3 is calling my name.  How about you?


What are your favorite resources?

My Favorite Heroes and Heroines

Thanks to getting smacked with an asthma attack, I missed my first blog date this month.  I would never do that--smack or miss--to a character.  Well, a villainous character, maybe, but not a hero or heroine.

Not the best segue into a blog about characters, but don't leave just yet.  There's more.  Good or bad, there's more. ;)

Most of us can't come close to knowing how many books we've read over our lifetimes, much less remember even half of the characters in them.  But many of us can talk about our favorite book or books and the characters who inhabited the stories.

I'll skip Trixie Belden and move straight on to more "adult" books.  After several years of swimming around in multiple genres, romance a main one, I fell into horror like a lead brick.  Stephen King horror, to be exact.  I won't go into the several characters in The Stand who had what we could call Starring Roles, but what I will say--and continue to do it often--is that SK knows how to write a character.  He knows how to do it so well that, in The Stand, each character gets chapters of his or her own (POV-wise, that is), and by reading only the first sentence or two, the identity of the POV character is clear...without the mention of the character's name.  No, I did not mix up Stu with Larry or anyone else.  They were clearly two different characters throughout the book.  Because of this, I bow down to Stephen King, Master of Characters.

The thing is, characters make a book.  The plot can be magnificent, the dialogue perfect, and the setting heavenly, but without good characters, who cares?

My trip back into romance from horror was ushered in by my oldest and dearest friend.  (We'll call her "G")  G called me on the phone one day, insisting I listen to the first few pages of the book she'd begun to read.  The problem was, she kept laughing, and it was hard to understand what she read to me, but between her giggles, I managed to grasp enough that even I started laughing.  Afterward, I went out and found my own copy of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' It Had to Be You, and I've never regretted it, having read it so many times I've lost count.

The heroine, Phoebe Sommerville, has just learned she's the owner of her father's football team, the Chicago Stars.  She knows nothing about football.  Phoebe has the body of...well, let's just say she has more than enough in the right places.  Voluptuous describes her best.  What Phoebe doesn't have is faith in herself.  She was her father's biggest disappointment, and he spent as little time with her as possible.  Phoebe plays it both soft and tough (and dumb and sexy) on the outside, and tough as leather (and smart, plus a bit frigid) on the inside, but she steers clear of relationships with men...straight men, anyway.  Gay men pose no problem.  It all goes back to an incident in her childhood.

Tough and sexy lady on the outside, scared child on the inside.   My three favorite SEP books all have that kind of heroine.

Ain't She Sweet's Sugar Beth Carey has that same tough exterior, and once upon a time, it was her interior, too.  But she's had some hard times since then, and she's learned a lot and grown up, leaving her with self-esteem that's seen much better days.  She's so tough that she carries through to nearly the end with that tough-gal attitude, thanks to her inner fears.

Blue Bailey, heroine of Natural Born Charmer, is down and out, with a smart mouth that doesn't stop.  But it isn't that outer exterior that wins over readers (and the hero!).  It's her heart, the thing she doesn't say that won this reader.  But Blue has to learn a lot of lessons, especially how to surrender, to get her happy-ever-after.

So there it is.  Tough on the outside, soft on the inside.  The funny thing is, the heroes for these heroines need to be much the same to be able to both keep up with them and keep our interest.  But that's what makes these characters memorable.  That's what makes them real.  As people, we aren't just one type, we're many.  We interact with some people one way, and with other people in another.  As human, we do our best to keep our weaknesses hidden, because if someone were to ever guess...  Well, you get the idea.  And that's the kind of heroines AND heroes I like to read.  I also like humor along with the angst.  Let me wring my hands one minute, then laugh at something the character said or thought the next.

Give me a character with many layers and facets, and you've won me over.  I'll read and re-read the book many times over.  THAT'S a KEEPER. 

Island Hopping

This journey started with expectant excitement. I was promised good things to see and do, not only on the way, but at our destination. Now I sit shipwrecked. Alone, on a tiny piece of land in the middle of nowhere. I have to ask, is this what I signed up for?

I can’t drink the water. It’s salty. The lone palm tree has no fruit to drop. The sun shines but I cannot feel its warmth. Skin is burned and I chill. Air is hiding, no breeze to dry my tear drenched face. No companionship, no soft bed, no music to sooth my battered soul. Sand, sea, sun and one tree my only view.

Alone, with unmet needs, broken hopes and crushing disappointment. Is this all there is to life?

I survey my surroundings. The whirring of panic fills me. Will they come find me? Is anyone even looking? How long can I live like this, smothered with a lifetime of broken promises? I had so many hopes, so many dreams. Will they ever come to pass? Am I looking too close at the now instead of fixing upon the future? How long must one wait for the future to arrive? At what point do you just admit defeat and give up?

I am not a coward, nor a quitter, yet the wait is long. Day after endless day I wait and watch, hope and dream. Nothing changes. Not the things I am most looking for anyway. Not those deep buried needs met, those dreams so big they can terrify. No knight in shining armor to sweep me off my feet and make everything okay. This hard place, this is not the fun filled cruise I expected.

I can strike out on my own and try swimming to safety, but which way do I go? How far to the next oasis? How far can I push this aging flesh? Will I ever find what I need, what I seek? Are there any guarantees in this life? Am I ready to risk death and destruction on a maybe I can make it? What are my choices here?

The sun rises high and I relax in a brief moment of shade. Clouds dot the horizon. I’m thirsty. Rain is coming. The wind begins to blow, blessed relief. A wave splashes high and throws a fish onto my tiny dot of sand. I must eat it raw, but it’s food. Interesting how this happens, when I’m at my most desperate, when I think I cannot continue on one more day, grace comes.

I stop and look around. What, in the midst of my darkest hour, can I be grateful for? What good can I find amid despair?

I’m still breathing, for one. Food and water do come. Shade, every day. Stars at night to gaze upon. Sun sparkling upon dancing waves. Ever changing colors of the sea. Warmth and light. Peace filled surroundings. Eyes to see. Hope. If I’m still alive, there is a purpose, there is a reason.

Will I ever see my heart’s desires? Will I ever experience deep held dreams? I don’t know. Only my life’s end will tell the whole story, but today, today I must choose. Either hold on to the dream or let go, believe or give up. Let faith fill my soul one more time, or give in to despondency and fear.

I take a deep breath, feel the freshness of sea misted air. I choose hope one more time. I choose to trust, to believe. When will my salvation come? I don’t know, but until then, I hope.

Favorite Heroes. 'Nuff said? (Penny Rader)

What are your favorite kinds of characters to write?  To read?

That's our topic this month.  It took me a while to figure out what to write about because there are so many great characters out there.  I finally decided I’d go with books which have specific scenes that pop into my head when I hear the title.

Sometimes a girl just needs a hug. 


A while back I read Widows of Wichita County by Jodi Thomas. I recently bought another copy because mine disappeared and I want to read it again . The book revolves around five women.  Four of their husbands die in an accident and the fifth is so injured he can’t be identified and can't speak.  My favorite thread of the story begins when Anna, originally from Italy and something of a misfit in Texas who is bullied by her aristocratic brother, confesses to one of the other widows during lunch that what she misses most is something she never really had but hoped might eventually happen with her husband – a hug. Not just a little bitty hug, but a huge hug.  You know, the kind of hug that warms you all the way to your toes.  

Zack, her neighbor to the north, had been at the same restaurant. He tells her he overheard her earlier conversation and that if she ever needs a hug he’d be happy to give her one.  No strings attached.  And that he’ll leave the light on for her.  She slaps him,   A few pages later, during a storm, she sees his light on and makes her way to his home, tearing her clothing on the fence she climbs over to get onto his property…but once he says her name she bolts.  He fixes the fence so if she comes back she’ll be able to do so without ripping her clothes. 

A few days later Zack still occupies Anna’s thoughts.  She still yearns for a hug and he did offer.  Maybe she could have one hug and then get him out of her head. Her brother, who has taken control of her life, hits her.  She runs.  To Zack.  And his hug.  He holds her close while she cries. No questions.  No strings. And an open-ended offer for hugs whenever she needs them.  My heart melted. Sometimes a hug, the warmth and comfort of it, is all a girl needs. Just to be held, without any further expectations.  Or is that just me?

A protector, who even when in pain, does what he knows to be right. 

Have you read Rachel Lee’s Conard County series?  The third book, Miss Emmaline and the Archangel, is my favorite, though the first one, Exile’s End, runs a close second. It could be because I read Miss Emmaline first.  I was hooked immediately and read the book pretty much in one sitting.  My copy is not on my shelf so I hope my memory doesn't goof this up.  

When the story opens Miss Emmaline Conard, a librarian, leaves work and discovers her car won’t start. Gage happens along.  I don't remember if Gage was able to get her car to run.  I do know Emmaline has a severe phobia that will not allow her to be in a car with a man.  Gage stole my heart when he walks her home.  He has many physical wounds and is nearly always in pain, yet he makes sure she arrives home safe and sound.  If memory serves, it was also freezing outside.  I’m bummed I can’t find my copy because I really want to read this story again.  I shall be doing an online search for this book after I finish this post.

A gentle giant

In Small Treasures by Maureen Child writing as Kathleen Kane, Samuel is a BIG guy who just encountered Abby in his home, a cabin in the mountains he and Abby each believe they have the right to.  Thank you, Maureen Child, for your permission to share this snippet from early in the story:

“That curl of anger was coming back, and immediately Samuel began the familiar pattern to regain control.  Slowly, calmly, he forced himself to say the alphabet.  He could still hear his mother’s warnings. ‘Samuel,’ she’d say, ‘you’re just too big to allow yourself to get angry like any man.  Why, one hit from a hand the size of yours would kill a man! You just got to keep a tight rein on that temper of yours.’ And so she taught him to say his ABCs whenever his temper started to rise.

“Usually, by the time he reached K or L, he was feeling better.  Tonight he’d had to go all the way to Z.  Twice.  And it wasn't just temper riding him tonight.  It was something else.  Something he couldn't put a name to, but it scared the hell out of him.

“Samuel shook his bushy head. He had to admit, though, that this little woman was really something.  She hadn't been afraid of him at all.

“What was wrong with her, anyway? Didn't she have the sense God gave a beaver?  Didn't she know that everyone was afraid of him?

“Why, the last time a woman was left alone with him, she’d swooned dead away. Frightened just by his size.  And he’d been dressed then.”

How unique is this hero? I’m so glad I found this book again in my stash so I can reread Sam and Abby’s sweet, funny, sexy story.

A gentle giant with a code of honor and who isn't afraid to love another man’s child.

Thank you, Robyn Carr, for allowing me to share a couple excerpts from Shelter Mountain.  This book is the second of her extraordinarily popular (and rightly so!) Virgin River series. 

A woman with a child comes into Jack’s Bar. Preacher, whose given name is John, can see her fear and suspects she’s been smacked around in spite of her insistence the marks on her face came from a car door.  He convinces Paige to stay the night in a room at the bar and she finally agrees because her child seems to be getting sick.  Here’s what happens next:

“The door was open a crack, like maybe she’d already been down to the kitchen. He could see a glass of orange juice sitting on the bureau inside the door and it pleased him to see that she’d helped herself.  Through the space of an inch, he saw her reflection in the bureau mirror.  Her back faced the mirror and she’d pulled her bulky sweatshirt up over her head and shoulders, trying to get a glimpse of her back and upper arms in the mirror.  She was covered with bruises.  Lots of bruises on her back, one on her shoulder and upper arms.

“Preacher was mesmerized.  For a moment his eyes were locked on those purple splotches. ‘Aw, Jesus,’ he whispered in a breath.

“He quickly backed away from the slit in the door and got up against the wall. It took him a moment to collect himself; he was stricken.  Horrified.  All he could think was, what kind of animal does something like that.  His mouth hung open because he couldn't imagine this. He was a warrior, a trained fighter and he was pretty sure he hadn't done that much damage to a man equal to him in size, in a fair fight.

“Some instinct kicked in that told him he shouldn't let on that he’d seen.  She was already afraid of everything, including him.  But there was also the reality that this wasn’t a woman who’d been smacked.  She’d been pummeled.  He didn't even know the girl yet all he wanted was to kill the son of a bitch who’d done that to her.  After five or eleven months of beatings, then death for the sorry bastard.

“She shouldn't know he was feeling that; it would scare her to death.  He took a few deep breaths, composed himself.  Then he tapped lightly on the door.”

Is Preacher awesome or what?  When I first read this I couldn't wait to see what would happen between the two of them.  I knew he’d do whatever it took to keep Paige safe and his gentleness would help her heal and discover a powerful, enduring love.

Want to see Preacher with Paige’s son a scene or two later?  Preacher’s making cookies and sharing them with Christopher, a little boy who has known great fear.

“They communed in silence for a while – Preacher, Chris, the three-legged bear.  When Preacher had all little balls rolled, he began mashing them with his fork, perfect lines left, then right.

“What’s that yer doing?” Christopher asked him.

“’Making cookies.  First you make the dough, then you roll the balls, then you smash with the fork, nice and easy.  Then they go in the oven.’  He peered at Chris from under the heavy brows. ‘I bet you could do this part. If you were careful and went nice and slow.’

“’I could.’

“’You’d have to come around here, let me lift you up.’

“’Kay,’ he said, putting his bear on the counter, getting off his stool and coming to Preacher.

“Preacher lifted him up to sit on the edge of the counter.  He helped him hold the fork and showed him how to press down. His first solo attempt was a little messy, so Preacher helped him again.  Then he did it pretty well.  Preacher let him finish the tray, then put it in the oven.

“’John?’ the boy asked.  ‘How many of them we gotta do?’

“Preacher smiled. ‘Tell you what, pardner.  We’ll do as many as you want,’ he said.

“Christopher smiled. ’Kay,’ he said.”

My insides went all warm and gooey as I read this scene.  I knew the little boy would overcome his fears, too, and I looked forward to Chris finding a place all his own in Preacher’s heart.


Do you have scenes that linger in your mind, where you knew immediately the hero was going to be something special, a true keeper?  What are your favorite kind of characters to read and/or write about?

Oh, do you mind a P.S.?

 I forgot to mention one of my all-time fave heroes: Roarke from J.D. Robb’s In Death series.  Gorgeous.  Brilliant. Oh-so-Irish. If I met him in person I’d probably hyperventilate and pass out.  Since I've taken up so much of your time I’ll share just one of his endearing qualities: He always carries a button from Eve’s coat.  He’s done so since book one, Naked in Death, and continues to do so 30+ books later.  Big sigh.  The newest book in the series, Concealed in Death, is patiently waiting for this weekend when I have an extra day off and plan to indulge myself in a serious readfest.

Hidden Characters and Tortured Souls

We're supposed to blog this month on favorite character types to read and write. Humm. This is taking way too much thought and I don't have a lot of that to spare.

I guess I'd have to say that I have several favorites. I love masquerades where people intentionally hide their true selves from others and the problems that eventually ensue. I love characters who are angry and have lost hope for themselves. I love characters who refuse to give up on their course of action-even if it means moldering in their own windswept tower. I love characters who make them change their course of action.

I love characters who defend the weak. I love characters who finally find that they can trust another and lay their burdens aside for a while. I love stories where characters refuse to abandon inconvenient relatives. I adore villains. Oh, oh, oh, give me a villain and I'm a happy girl.

I love kidnappings, duels, swordwork, knives, bloodletting, and of course marksmanship.
I love tactics, warfare, fighting, winning, and losing. I love cleverness.

I adore dark headed men with lean legs and knowing attitudes. Did I tell you they also annoy the everloving puddin' right out of me in real life? I want to smack them.

What do you do with breathless, dithering, whiners? What do you do with motionless men?

Real life is mean and wears a person down with the constant battle to keep ahead of rot, decay, death, destruction, annoyance, and that's all before noon while facing the interior of the fridge. My entertainment life I want full of adventure, inconvenience, interesting places, food, and people, and I demand that by the end, the evil have had their comeuppance, the innocent are safe, the girl gets the guy, the ranch, they both get the life they find out they wanted, even if it wasn't originally what they sought.

As far as my writing is concerned. Well, those characters, I know, but I don't know if they really are what I would like to read. They merely exist as I find them.

Favorite Characters to Write and to Read by J Vincent

I have never thought about “liking” to write a particular character.  There are definitely characters whom I like—sometimes too much—but caring about writing them? Hmmmm. 

After thinking a bit the answer lies in the fact that I like strong characters whether they be heroes, heroines, or villains.  And strong characters often take the pen in their own hands, so to speak, and write themselves.  That disconcerted me when I first began to write and I still haven’t reconciled the fact that it happens with the idea that as creator, I should be more in charge or more in control of the menagerie in my head.  I’m so far down the writer road now, that I worry if they don’t take charge.  Funny how one’s world and ideas turn.  Alongside my characters’ strengths I am partial to vulnerability.

Of the coterie of characters in my Honour series the one I like the most is André, Baron de la Croix.  I first met him as a six year old in Bond of Honour—one of my published oldest books and quite unwittingly, on my part, a precursor to the Honour series. I had no idea at the time I would ever encounter him again. Even at six he was daring and adventuresome.  When I needed a character who could be a British spy in my H series it turned out that André not only was the right age but fit the bill perfectly.  What surprised me more was that the villain Donatien who also is a thread through my series was also in Bond of Honour.  He was part of a gang that kidnapped André. These two men are very different but totally committed to their ideals.  Donatien doesn’t think he has any but they are there and I have been astounded at his development.  There even appears a glimmer of redemptive value in Honour’s Redemption, completed but not yet released.  That astounded me at the time I wrote it, revealing to me as I write this, another facet of characters I like to write.  They grow and change.  Not always in a way I want them to but in a way that is true to them.

The same things are true of the characters I like to read.  I am now reading the fourth book of Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel regency books.  Sadly there are only four because she passed away from cancer shortly after writing the fourth.  Julian Kestrel starts as an enigma with rather tantalizing hints given as the first book progresses.  He is outwardly rather useless and inwardly very complex.  As he solves a murder mystery in the first book he surprises himself and others and not only at his development as a detective. Ross did such a good job that I am deeply saddened that we will never know what was in store for this character down the road.  There are provocative hints but that’s all they will ever be.  

 Lord Peter Whimsey written so well by Dorothy Sayers and after her death by Jill Paten Walsh.  He is strong yet vulnerable and troubled.  A more current favorite character, strong but flawed, is J. P. Beaumont, the Seattle, or rather ex-Seattle detective depending on where you are at in the series, written by J A Jance. (Or maybe I’m just in love with the voice of Gene Engene who reads the Jance audio books.) Then there is P.D. James's Commander Adam Dalgliesh of the London Police or Anne Perry’s William Monks also originally of the London Police, Victorian era.  Or J. D. Robb’s Dallas and Roarke—again police, murder and mystery in a futuristic setting. There are other authors I read faithfully—Earlene Fowler, Iris Johansen’s Eve series, Dick Francis.  All of these write murder and mayhem.

Looking at this it appears I have a thing for detectives and murder mysteries.  But there are others.  Mercedes Lackey’s sci-fi Arrow of the Queen series has several characters I love to read especially her heroine, Talia.  There is Jo Beverley’s Georgian period Malloren series whose head of family, the Marquess of Rothgar, is a delicious character and there are Beverley’s regency Rogues.

But what kinds of characters do you like to read?  Are there any of my characters from my past or present work that have caught your fancy?